TIME North Korea

Kim Jong Un Appoints Sister as Head of North Korea’s Propaganda Department

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un applauds during a photo session with the soldier-builders who performed labor feats in building the Wonsan Baby Home and Orphanage
KCNA/Reuters North Korean leader Kim Jong Un applauds during a photo session in Pyongyang.

He sees her as the best person to promote the "Greatest Dynasty"

Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, has been put in charge of North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD).

As the vice director of the country’s propaganda arm, she will be in charge of developing her brother’s cult of personality.

“Kim Yo Jong is assisting in consolidating Kim Jong Un’s power,” said a source to Daily NK. “As vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, Kim Yo Jong is actually in power and leading idolization projects related to Kim Jong Un.”

She has replaced Kim Ki Nam, 89, who has run PAD since the 1990s and served the Kim dynasty since the 1960s. According to the source, his age and ‘sub-par’ work played a part in his demotion to the newly created and largely ceremonial ‘advisory’ post within the department.

Kim sees his sister as the best person to promote the “Greatest Dynasty” said the source. “It is said that Kim Jong Un has the utmost trust and confidence in his sister.”

There is little information on Kim Yo Jong, who is the youngest of seven siblings and is thought to be either 27 or 28.

TIME portfolio

See North Korean Propaganda Reimagined

Photographer Alice Wielinga uses photomontage to express a different reality for North Korea

In recent years, journalists have increasingly been able to offer the world a peek inside North Korea. However, the nation remains a mysterious place, where propaganda and reality coexist. This intertwined dichotomy fascinated Dutch photographer Alice Wielinga, who produced a series of photomontages that mesh the reality of what she personally saw when visiting North Korea with the utopian vision of its leaders.

Wielinga started her career as a photojournalist in 2004 after graduating from the Academy of Arts in St. Joost in the Netherlands. But, after four years spent in the editorial market, she became increasingly disillusioned by it. “Every time I sent a picture to the desks, they were happy but I wasn’t,” she says. “I felt that, with mere documenting, I wasn’t able to tell the story as I felt it, as I was experiencing it.”

That’s when she turned to photomontage. “That way, I could use my documentary pictures and combine them with other works to go further,” she says.

That ability to tell a story the way she experienced it proved handy after the photographer got a chance to visit North Korea through an organized tour in 2013.

“I want to recreate images that look like theirs but that tell my own story,” the 33-year-old says. “When I arrived in North Korea, I noticed that what I interpreted as the reality of North Korea was also a version of propaganda. Through the documentaries I’ve seen, the books I’ve bought, I had this image of North Korea as a country that stood still for 50 years, which is true, but that’s a version that they try to show you on these propaganda tours.”

She cites the example of an English class she was allowed to attend. “When I saw it, I realized that I had seen this exact English class in a documentary,” she says. “That’s when you realize that this is not the everyday reality of North Korea. It’s a very polished version of everyday reality.”

Photomontage allows Wielinga to combine the polished version with what lies underneath. Her composite images take between one and three weeks to produce, and are often made up of dozens of images meshed together with one, two or three paintings or propaganda pictures. “First I collect the materials, and then I collect hundreds of paintings from books, but also from photographs I took in art galleries in North Korea,” she says. “Then, I scatter the prints on the floor of my studio and I start looking for things that are linked to each other or confront one another.”

While Wielinga tried to imagine what North Koreans actually feel like, she admits that her images are interpretations of what she felt while visiting the secluded country. “I think there’s a part of North Korea that truly hopes it’s building that utopia, but they also realize that they are actually far from it.”

Alice Wielinga is a Dutch photographer. Her ongoing project North Korea, a Life between Propaganda and Reality, will form part of the North Korean Perspectives show at the MoCP in Chicago from July 23 to Oct. 4, 2015.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent.

TIME North Korea

North Korea Has Banned Foreign Envoys From Having Media Critical of Kim Jong Un

South Korea Korean War Anniversary
Lee Jin-man—AP An effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set up by South Korean conservative activists in Seoul on June 25, 2015, during a rally against the North to mark the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War

But isn't that pretty much everything?

Foreign diplomats are no longer allowed to keep content critical of the North Korean regime or supreme leader Kim Jong Un, according to a new ordinance.

Anything considered slanderous to the Hermit Kingdom or Kim, which could include photographs, movies, literature or files saved on phones or computers, can no longer be kept by foreign embassies or international organizations in the capital Pyongyang, reports UPI.

The U.K. has decried the ban as a violation of international standards of human rights. The ordinance, issued June 26, comes on the heels of a U.K. Foreign Office report on human rights and democracy, which classified North Korea as a “human-rights concern” for reasons including its limits on freedom of expression.

North Korea has a long history of censorship and is considered one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Late last year, U.S. envoy to the U.N. Samantha Power accused Pyongyang of the cyberattack on Sony Pictures, apparently in retaliation for the release of the studio’s The Interview, a movie parodying Kim and the regime.

Compared with the general population, diplomats live in relative comfort. But the ban is another in a long list of inconveniences, which includes frequent blackouts due to power shortages.


TIME North Korea

North Korea Not Interested in Iran-Style Nuclear Deal With U.S.

North Korea doesn't want to be "a plaything to be put on the negotiating table"

North Korea will not negotiate an Iran-style nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers, officials said Tuesday.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry released a statement saying the country is not interested in discussing looser sanctions in return for ending its nuclear program, Reuters reports.

“We are clearly a nuclear power and nuclear powers have their own interests,” an unidentified spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry said. He went on to say that the isolated country is not interested in becoming “a plaything to be put on the negotiating table.”

“It is not logical to compare our situation with the Iranian nuclear agreement because we are always subjected to provocative U.S. military hostilities, including massive joint military exercises and a grave nuclear threat,” the official said. “We do not have any interest at all on dialogue for unilaterally freezing or giving up our nukes.”

The statement was made in response to the historic deal the U.S. and five other countries struck with Iran last week to ease sanctions in exchange for reduced Iranian nuclear capability. Like Iran prior to the deal, North Korea is sanctioned by the U.S., United Nations, European Union and various other countries for continuing to obtain and develop materials for nuclear weapons.


TIME North Korea

Industrial-Electro Rockers Laibach Will Be the First Foreign Band to Play North Korea

JURE MAKOVEC—AFP/Getty Images Slovenian music band Laibach performs live in Trbovlje on July 4, 2015.

Bet you didn't see that coming

They’re known for their dark, brooding covers of popular songs like Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” Queen’s “One Vision” and The Beatles’ “Let It Be.” They’re also known for wearing military uniforms on stage and have been labeled as “fascist,” although fans say their controversial getup is an ironic critique of authoritarianism.

And soon, the members of avant-garde Slovenian band Laibach will also be known for being the first foreign music act to publicly perform in North Korea.

The band has announced two concerts at Pyongyang’s Kim Won Gyun Music Conservatory, scheduled for the 19th and 20th of August to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the isolated military dictatorship’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. The shows are apparently to be filmed for a documentary to be released in 2016.

Laibach, founded in 1980 in what was then Yugoslavia and named after the German word for Slovenia’s capital city Ljubljana, also hopes to take as many foreign fans into the highly secretive nation as it can.

“Although our main mission is to give as many Koreans as possible the Laibach experience, we are also working hard to ensure that a certain number of foreign visitors, in the spirit of brotherhood and understanding between the peoples, will be welcome as well,” the band said. It lists two tour operators that are hoping to be given the green light.

“North Korea is portrayed in the West as the world’s most closed country, but in fact it is more open to the outside world than the prevailing media narrative suggests,” the band’s director Morten Traavik told the BBC.

“Both the country and the band have been portrayed by some as fascist outcasts. The truth is that both are misunderstood.”

TIME Photojournalism Links

The 10 Best Photo Essays of the Month

A compilation of the 10 most interesting photo essays published online in June, as curated by Mikko Takkunen

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world, including Tomas Munita’s powerful work on Burma’s persecuted Rohingya minority. The photographs, made on assignment for The New York Times, capture a camp in Sittwe, Burma, where some 140,000 Rohingya live in bamboo huts without electricity, in conditions that partly explain why thousands of the Muslim ethnic group have tried to migrate across Asia these past few months.

Tomas Munita: For the Rohingya of Burma, a Hardscrabble Existence (The New York Times)

James Nachtwey: The Plight of the Rohingya (TIME LightBox) TIME’s contract photographer travelled to Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, to document the plight of Asia’s newest boat people.

Pete Muller: Seeking the Source of Ebola (National Geographic) World Press Photo winner Muller’s excellent pictures track the Ebola outbreak from Democratic Republic of Congo to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast.

Rena Effendi: In the Footsteps of Gandhi (National Geographic) Effendi’s beautiful color photographs look at the great Indian leader’s impact, past and present.

Robin Hammond: Chronicling the Struggles of LGBT People Around the World (TIME LightBox) Moving portraits series on survivors of discrimination

David Guttenfelder: Illuminating North Korea (The New York Times) Yet another fascinating look at the hermit kingdom by the National Geographic Society Fellow.

Matt Black: Geography of Poverty (MSNBC) The new Magnum nominee is expanding his project documenting poverty from California to rest of the U.S.

Philip Montgomery: Scott Walker and the Fate of the Union (The New York Times Magazine) Stunning black and white pictures document the fight to protect workers’ rights in Wisconsin.

Arnau Bach: Stranded in Marseille (The New Yorker Photo Booth) Bach won the Pierre and Alexandra Boulat grant in 2013 and used the funds to make a portrait of one of the poorest French cities.

Charles Ommanney: The Black Route to Europe (The Washington Post) These photographs track one Syrian family’s journey from Aleppo to Austria| More on the Washington Post In Sight blog: Pt.1 and Pt. 2.

TIME Instagram

Instagram Users in North Korea Report App Blocked

Pictures appear on the smartphone photo
Thomas Coex—AFP/Getty Images Pictures appear on the smartphone photo sharing application Instagram on April 10, 2012 in Paris.

Instagram users in North Korea have received a "blacklist" warning

Looks like North Korea has blacklisted photo-sharing social network Instagram and is denying access to it from devices in the country.

When users open the app from mobile phones on the North Korean carrier Koryolink, a warning in both English and Korean appears, The Associated Press reported on Monday. “Warning! You can’t connect to this website because it’s in blacklist site [sic],” says the English version. The Korean warning also says that the site contains harmful content.

Similar warnings also appear when accessing Instagram on computers using LAN cables on the North Korean Internet provider. Instagram still worked on some mobile phones, but not all.

The origin of the warning is still unclear. Koryolink customer support employees told The Associated Press that they weren’t aware of any policy changes regarding Instagram and there has been no notice from the government regarding the service. The block could be related to a June 11 fire at a Pyongyang hotel, often used by tourists and foreign visitors, that North Korea’s state-run media has yet to officially report on, despite photos of it leaking on the Internet.

While North Korea is still not allowing its citizens to access the Internet, with a few exceptions, it did decide in 2013 to allow foreign visitors to access 3G Internet through their mobile phones, which requires a local SIM card from Koryolink.

Other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are still working fine.

TIME North Korea

Activists Cross Demilitarized Zone Between North and South Korea

The group wants to promote peace and reconciliation between the two sides

An international group of female activists crossed the border between North and South Korea on Sunday to promote peace between the two countries, which have yet to sign a peace treaty 60 years after the Korean War ended.

The group of about 30 women, WomenCrossDMZ, was taken by bus across the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), CNN reports, which was created by a 1953 armistice that halted, but never ended, the Korean War. The crossing was sanctioned by both sides, and included feminist Gloria Steinem and Nobel laureates Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland.

Several groups have criticized the march, arguing that the women should have crossed the North Korea–China border, which is more dangerous than the DMZ. Others called the crossing “empty,” blasting the activists for allowing North Korea an opportunity to cover up its record of human-rights abuses.

Read next: Gloria Steinem’s North Korea Peace Walk Draws Ire Despite Lack of Any Better Ideas



TIME North Korea

North Korean Dictator’s Brother Spotted At Eric Clapton Concert

Kim Jong-chul is clearly a big Clapton fan

Footage has emerged that appears to show the older brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un attending two Eric Clapton concerts in London. According to the BBC, Kim Jong-chul has been seen attending Clapton concerts abroad in the past, in Germany and in Singapore.

The video footage filmed by a Japanese television network Wednesday shows a car arriving outside London’s Royal Albert Hall. A man resembling Kim Jong-chul and a woman emerge from inside, both dressed in green leather jackets and sunglasses.

Reporters ask Kim several questions, including about his relationship with his brother, but he does not reply.

A BBC journalist at the same venue the following night said the pair were there again, surrounded by officials. “But he was having a great time, singing along to all the words,” said Simeon Paterson from the BBC.

Kim Jon-chul’s father reportedly overlooked him for the North Korean leadership in 2009. His younger brother Kim Jon-un took over when their father died in Dec. 2011.

TIME North Korea

Gloria Steinem’s North Korea Peace Walk Draws Ire Despite Lack of Any Better Ideas

Remember, the status quo sure ain't working

There’s a lot written about North Korea: reports on the country’s nuclear program, speculation about its leadership, and gossip about its dictator’s hair, height and weight. But parse the streams of text the country generates each week and you’ll notice a word conspicuously missing: peace.

Though the 1950–53 Korean War ended without a treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula divided, the question of peace has faded from view. Exasperated by Pyongyang’s intransigence on nuclear issues, tired of its propagandists’ vitriol, the international community has, for the most part, disengaged. Young South Koreans are less and less interested in their hermit neighbor. The U.S. is all about isolation — and sanctions galore.

The deepening standoff is what inspired a group of 30 female activists, including feminist icon Gloria Steinem, to plan a walk for peace at the border. The plan is to set out on May 24 across the demilitarized zone, or DMZ (which, despite its name, is among the most militarized places on earth). They will walk from the north side to the south, they hope, a gesture meant to break the standoff — symbolically at least.

There are still questions as to whether the women will make it through. They say they’ve been granted permission from authorities on both sides to walk across on May 24, although they are not sure which crossing they will use. They told Reuters that they had yet to hear back from U.N. Command, which runs the Panmunjom crossing. (There are two others.)

While in North Korea, the group’s itinerary includes meeting North Korean women and touring a maternity ward and a factory. The point is to be present, listen and engage, Steinem told the Washington Post in a pre-departure interview. “There is no substitute for putting your bodies where your concerns are,” she said.

Not everybody agrees. In a Post editorial headlined “Empty Marching in North Korea,” Abraham Cooper of Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, blast Steinem and her colleagues for giving North Korea a chance to engage in “human rights theater intended to cover up its death camps and crimes against humanity.”

Responding to an item in TIME about the march, North Korean exile Shin Dong-hyuk (more on him here) also blasted the women for “smiling” at Kim Jong Un’s “evil” face. “How can they so easily find the ability to be comfortable with smiles on their faces to this dictator when so many are suffering at his hands?” we writes on his Facebook page. He wonders, he says, “if these people know the meaning of peace.”

While Cooper, Scarlatoiu and Shin are right to put the spotlight on North Korea’s appalling rights record, it’s quite the leap to say these veteran activists are ignoring it. “We have no illusions that our walk can basically erase the conflict that has endured for seven decades,” Christine Ahn, the Korean-American coordinator, told the press.

The group is pushing for empathy — not for the regime but for those suffering under it. They want to make us care about North Korea by showing us that North Koreans are people, not Hollywood caricatures. Yes, Kim Jong Un could spin this as good press. But surely outside observers will realize that a visit by peace campaigners is not an endorsement of his death camps.

The world needs to stand up to North Korea. Its record on human rights is appalling, its leader cruel. But the current strategy — isolation, condemnation and mockery — is not working. As such, it’s hard to condemn a walk for peace.

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